The Suburbanite
  • Agencies focus on housing for dual-diagnosed

  • Stark County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board works with ICAN to assure housing for clients with both mental-health and substance-abuse issues.

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  • About a year ago, Tasha Jo DeWalt wound up catching some criminal charges, including a crack cocaine case.
    She might have lost her housing, which is provided through ICAN Housing Solutions. But that didn’t happen because the agency is being urged to serve people such as DeWalt, who has a mental-health disorder and drug addiction.
    Stark County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board, a public agency that funds ICAN, wants the housing agency to assist clients who not only have a mental-health issue but also a substance-abuse problem.
    “We are looking at how we do our mental-health, and alcohol and drug clients access housing across the community,” said John Aller, executive director of the county Mental Health and Recovery Services Board. “ICAN is the agency we contract with basically to provide that service. What we are saying, ‘If you have a mental illness, let’s find you a place to live. Then we will wrap the needed services around you.’ Those services might be therapy.”
    So, rather that evict DeWalt, 34, last year when she caught the drug case, ICAN maintained her residence in the Basic Accommodations complex in the 800 block of Cherry Avenue NE.
    Having a residence while coping with addiction and mental-health concerns, “has improved my life by being able to feel secure, have peace of mind,” DeWalt said. “There is nothing like being homeless. I have been homeless numerous times. It takes a lot of stress off my mind. It is definitely a challenge. I have been here off and on since 2009.”
    ICAN has accommodated those with mental illness for several years.
    “I think we have 18 buildings that range in size,” Maryellen Cameron, executive director of ICAN, said. “We also have rent assistance so we can help someone afford an apartment if they live in a building that is not our own. Everybody that enters ICAN housing is homeless. Some of them are chronically homeless.”
    The agency had contracts with what was then the Stark County Board of Mental Health.
    A few years ago, that county board blended with the Stark County board which funded substance-abuse treatment. As a result, ICAN is expected to provide services for people that have a dual diagnosis.
    “Our mission has been very inclusive,” Cameron said. “That means we give a chance to everybody. Our goal is for people to get better. Our objective is to deliver all the services and, hopefully, they will get better. We are providing housing help to close to 200 people right now.”
    County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board officials were concerned about how ICAN was delivering services. The county board brought in a group called the Center For Supportive Housing.
    “We paid for them to come in and do an assessment of ICAN,” Paula Mastroianni, public-relations officer for the county board, said. “We have now put an emphasis on them housing people with dual diagnosis. Dual-diagnosed clients need housing as well. It is a different approach to counseling.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Among suggestions coming out of that assessment was making it possible for more dual-diagnosed clients to have ICAN housing.
    “ICAN wants to meet the expectations of the mental health board just as it wants to meet expectations of any organization that provides funding for us,” Cameron said. “Sometimes we have to work through making those expectations align.”
    Opening up housing for clients with both substance-abuse and mental-health issues might be necessary for groups such as ICAN to maintain housing contracts, according to Mastroianni.
    “If she (Cameron) wants our money, she needs to get in that game,” Mastroianni said. “There are many people we can take our money to who would be happy to provide those services.”
    Also, the assessment suggested ICAN should focus on chemically dependent clients to reduce the number of homeless in the community.
    “ICAN and the board are trying to move toward a housing-first model,” Aller said. “We are looking at this throughout the whole county. We are having these discussions with other agencies. Instead of having services established for the client, and then getting them housing.
    “This model is about getting them housing and then wrapping services around them,” he said. “The research would tell you they stabilize quicker and you get better outcomes when you use that model.”

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